The State of Philadelphia’s Early American Baptist Bones

Baptist Bones 2.jpg

Back in October 2017 I wrote a post about the skeletons found on the site of the First Baptist Church burial ground.  In the last couple of years this story has been a staple of my tour of colonial-era Philadelphia. A luxury residential building now sits on the old Baptist graveyard, but the examination of the bones found by the workers continues.

Here is a taste of Laurel Geggel’s piece at LiveScience:

Thousands of people were buried at the First Baptist Church’s burial ground from about 1702 until 1860, when the cemetery was allegedly relocated. However, when the church moved its cemetery because it was turning into a local garbage dump, the Philadelphia Board of Health gave it only three months that year — from Jan. 1 to April 1 — to move the graves.

This was a tremendous undertaking, and although some of the graves were relocated, the majority were not, Moran said. The fact that the church left behind so many bodies wasn’t publicized, and it wasn’t until 2017 that the extent of the burials was realized, she said.

In all, the remains of at least 3,000 people were still buried there, according to historical records. Moran and her colleagues have since found about 500 of them where the luxury condominium now sits, at 218 Arch Street.

After visiting the site with Anna Dhody, a forensic anthropologist at the Mütter Museum of Philadelphia, Moran was given a box holding 113 bones, mostly long bones from people’s arms and legs. Dhody and Moran offered to help excavate or oversee the project, but they were politely brushed aside, Moran said.

But six weeks later, in February 2017, the developer, PMC Property Group, had a change of heart. Construction workers continued to find bones, and they didn’t know what to do with them. “We came back to the site, and we found very obvious voids in the soil that had wood sticking out of them,” Moran said. “It was obvious that this was a coffin that had been disturbed by the heavy machinery. And someone’s legs were sticking out.”

So, Moran, Dhody and Ani Hatza, a forensic anthropologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, struck a deal with the developer. The scientists would supervise the backhoe work, and if they saw any bones, the backhoe would stop so the scientists could excavate the spot. “It was pretty rough and ready,” Moran said. “They didn’t let us do a meticulous job or anything.”

Read the entire piece here.

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